When should you customize your ERP and why?

While some suggest that ERP customization still exists as a critical operational element, during the last 10 years, systems have become more internally adept. Consequently, these advances have allowed today’s systems to provide for levels of processing and reporting that largely render the entire concept of customization moot.

On top of this happy result, progressions in complexity and stability have also come to the fore, since the more customization any ERP experiences, the higher the chance of experiencing some unexpected behavior. This kind of event usually requires some type of remedial action - this can sometimes be resolved internally, but at other times, only third-party support can overcome.

Whether internal or external support is required, time and money is typically lost. And regardless of the size of a particular enterprise, unplanned support dollars are always better directed toward other, more progressive, operational needs.

So after all is said and done, when does an ERP system require customization, and why? Well, as a former CIO here are my takes on the matter.

If you must customize your ERP, do it later

Systemically, commercial ERP platforms are created on the basis of matrices of fixed code instructions, guided by various subjective operational requirements and limited by the sophistication of a company’s development capabilities. This means that, other than scale of use, differences between ERP functionality, its UI, and other relevant operational bits are primarily defined by what brand managers and developers define as one or more commercial advantages.

Recommended reading: figure out which functionalities you need with our list of 70 ERP features to consider for your next system.

Whether a particular system is driven to showcase the simplicity of its UI, its depth of reporting, speed of processing, or easy integration with third-party apps, ERPs live and die on the basis of quality assurance tests, and are measured on the basis of entirely subjective levels of judgment. As a practical matter, this recognition means that while a system may work just fine as long as its technical ‘envelope’ isn’t exposed to anything but itself, as soon as you open a port, or create an unknown customization, all bets are immediately off.

As Rebecca Wettemann, an ERP analyst with Nucleus Research Inc. said in a 2011 article in CIO Magazine; “We…see more and more CIOs going the 'less customization' route…10 years ago, they did a lot of customizations. But I would say that the majority today are going 90 percent out of the box — with very vanilla installations. It gives you a more predictable and cheaper deployment and then obviously, it makes upgrades less disruptive and less costly."

Five years down the road, Ms. Wettermann’s analysis of ERP customization still applies, but only in this case the 10% value has fallen further.

That said, there will be times when you are going to want to alter one or more central elements by customizing a process, report or other kind of script; and that fine. However, if you do, be sure that you know what going on under the hood, before you turn the ignition.

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Rick Carlton

About the author…

Rick Carlton dba PRRACEwire, has worked as a tech journalist, writer, researcher, editor and publisher for many years. In addition to his editorial work, Rick has also served as a C-Level executive/consultant for a wide-range of private and public sector U.S. and International companies.

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Rick Carlton

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